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NTL offers premium broadband, but keeps bandwidth cap

The proliferation of paid-for content has prompted cable firm NTL to offer bundles with its broadband services, but downloads will be rationed to a gigabyte each day

NTL is launching a new broadband product this week aimed at Internet users who want more than a standard high-speed connection, as companies search for ways to make money from content online.

The cable firm is offering 15 channels of broadband content for £3.95 per month on top of the standard subscription fee. This includes material from Encyclopaedia Britannica, the BBCi Broadband Console and MTV Live, and hundreds of downloadable games. The product, called Broadband Plus, will launch on 3 December, and will be free for the first three months.

NTL says that to gather this amount of content together independently would cost users around £30 per month. It created Broadband Plus after conducting research into whether users were prepared to pay for content. This study found that people were much more interested in buying one bundled package containing a range of material.

NTL says the high cost of premium broadband content has put it out of reach for many people. It's still unproven whether many broadband customers will pay extra for content, rather than getting it as part of their package as with AOL and BT Yahoo. NTL insists that it is better to give users the option of getting premium content.

"It's all about offering a choice. We're not saying people have to take this content," an NTL spokesman said. NTL's 600 kilobits per second (Kbps) broadband product costs £24.99 per month, compared to £27.99 per month for AOL's 512Kbps service and £29.99 for BT Yahoo.

NTL has been the target of considerable sniping from some other companies because it sells a 150Kbps Internet access product. NTL says this is broadband, pointing out that Oftel rates any always-on service running at 128Kbps as being classed as broadband. Rivals, in particular BT, disagree with this classification, saying it is too slow to be included in broadband figures.

Broadband Plus, NTL says, has been designed for its 600Kbps and 1Mbps broadband products, but the company denies that this proves that 150Kbps doesn't deliver proper broadband.

"There are different types of broadband users. Some just want to do the same things they did with dial-up, but faster, while for others only 1Mb will do," explained the NTL spokesman.

Others in the industry are less convinced about NTL's motives for launching a product suited only for its high-end users. "One might argue that this is a slightly aggressive way of pushing people onto a faster product," suggested one insider.

NTL, though, says that any customer on 150Kbps who really wanted to get Broadband Plus would be welcome.

But, although there is a wide range of content available through Broadband Plus, there will be a limit to how much of it can be enjoyed by the user. NTL operates a bandwidth cap to prevent users downloading an average of more than one gigabit of data per day. According to NTL, this cap shouldn't handicap Broadband Plus users.

"Based on average usage figures, we're confident that users will fully enjoy these services," insisted the NTL spokesman.

When the bandwidth restriction was brought in, NTL said that 1GB of data was equal to 200 music tracks, 10,000 pictures or 20,000 Web pages.